First Published: In Struggle! No. 270, November 3, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Forums were held in Rouyn-Noranda, Montreal and Rimouski on October 17, 18 and 25
Twenty people turned out in Rouyn-Noranda on October 17 to hear Charles Gagnon present the main points in his new pamphlet: On the crisis in the Marxist-Leninist movement.
In Rimouski, several members and supporters focused their debates on the extent of the crisis in socialism, both in terms of the working class and in terms of our own organization.
The biggest turnout was, of course, in Montreal, where between 500 and 600 people attended the conference. The afternoon began with a presentation by Charles Gagnon, followed by four other comrades – Jean-Pierre Gagne, Jean Charbonneau, Josee Lamoureux and Guy Simard – who explained their different analyses of the problems confronting us and the solutions they think should be chosen.
The second part of the afternoon was devoted to comments from the floor. Approximately 25 people spoke about what their concerns were and how they saw and analysed this or that aspect of the crisis. Members of the RWL and Combat socialists also spoke from the floor.
On the whole, the Montreal conference was successful in making known the points of view that are circulating in the organization in Montreal. The diverse statements coming from the podium and the floor gave us a fairly complete picture of positions on all subjects.
After having gone over the various manifestations of IN STRUGGLE!’s crisis over the last year or two. Charles Gagnon identified two major areas which are important to an understanding of the situation. The first is the history of IN STRUGGLE! and the second is the crisis in the Marxist-Leninist movement. His main hypothesis is that we must now reject “Marxism-Leninism as it is conceived by the present Marxist-Leninist movement.” That movement “has based its action on a line of political and organizational principles some of which don’t correspond very much to the present and future context within which the struggle for socialism is being fought.” He didn’t take up the question of IN STRUGGLE!’s future plans for action, recognizing how difficult this is to work out and arguing that we have to really understand the problem we’re facing well before putting forward a solution to it.
He still believes that IN STRUGGLE! would be better equipped to face the many problems before us if it shared the same viewpoint on how to take up the study of history and the present situation.
Jean-Pierre Gagne said that “IN STRUGGLE!’s proclamation of itself as the vanguard” must be rejected as erroneous. He said we must break with, “the idea of an organization where the knowledge of some professional revolutionaries is brought into the masses’ struggles from outside.” This conception is extended to the point that within the organization there is a “vanguard of the vanguard.”
Breaking with that approach would lead to some practical consequences: 1. militants should be involved where there are real struggles; 2. revolutionary theory should be developed in close connection with these struggles not from the outside; 3. a political platform should be drafted which can draw in other political forces since the problems poised by IN STRUGGLE! are not unique to it.
Jean Charbonneau spoke on organizational problems. He proposed major changes to the way IN STRUGGLE! works and applies democratic centralism. He said if IN STRUGGLE! seemed at times like “a rather closed and inaccessible militaristic organization of soldiers”, it’s partly because we have always believed up to now that the revolution was imminent.”
Changes to be made should permit the most extensive and direct democracy possible because of the conditions of struggle in our country.
Josee Lamoureux began her speech with a short children’s demonstration demanding day care for conference such as this one. She then went over the conditions women comrades live in showing the need to get rid of two models: that of the theoretician and of the industrial worker. She continued to demand, “the end of the idea of the vanguard and its prefabricated plans” because it is based on a hierarchy among individuals and creates a hierarchy between the party and the masses.
According to her “some social movements have been stagnating since 1976. While the working class is passive others are active and that’s where we should be working”, She recalled the work done to date by the research collectives on women’s oppression which reached two conclusions: the organization should take a clearcut feminist perspective on the ideological and practical levels; people must completely change and revolutionize their behaviour and class attitudes and get rid of their feelings of superiority.
This was speech was enthusiastically applauded speech by many.
Guy Simard, one of the four authors of a text “Le refus d’un modele” (reject all models) began by questioning the importance given theoretical tasks in the April ’81 C.C. resolutions. He objected that this new orientation is not based on a new analysis of the present situation. Although he agrees that there is a significant theoretical and political crisis, “it won’t be solved by becoming a research club” but rather “in the long term in the real battleground of mass struggle.”
People in the audience spoke on many subjects following the five platform speeches. There was no debate or direct polemical exchange between the supporters of the various positions. Each speaker spoke from his or her own experience instead of answering other speakers.
Several spoke of the difficulty they had in understanding what the differences were between the viewpoints presented by the speakers.
Questions raised from the floor were about: the present situation; the assessment of our history; education and our theoretical tasks; the women’s movement within our organization; democracy; relationships between leaders and followers; unity with the left; and the theory of the vanguard.
One speaker, talking about the present situation, disagreed with the statement, “the objective conditions are not revolutionary.” He based himself on statistics showing the poverty in Quebec. Others insisted that it is only by dealing with our own society first and foremost that we will be able to figure out how to transforms it.
Some of the people who spoke about the evaluation of our history, agreed with the wholesale changes proposed by certain speakers. Others were worried about an apparent quick agreement on the same evaluation among people who were “all the while defending different points of view on what should be done.” One speaker saw “a danger in rejecting everything done in the past just in order to do something new.”
Many women and a few men also spoke enthusiastically about the women’s movement in the organization which according to them, “deepened our understanding of many questions beyond those specifically concerning women”. Some were skeptical of structural changes that would not be accompanied by deep ideological changes.
Several spoke of the attention accorded political education within our ranks, democracy and the relationship between leaders and followers. Some said we had had a very bad understanding of education, an intellectualist one not based on questions raised in people’s daily struggles. Also criticized were: bureaucracy; having permanent staff in an organization like IN STRUGGLE! and generally a hierchical view of democratic-centralism.
Some speakers insisted that the world and the current crisis are not seen the same way by leaders and followers. They were willing to considerably change the kind of leadership we’ve hadnow. One speaker went as far as to call for the right to dissidence and for the rejection of the idea of “unity of action”.
While the majority of speakers criticized the way IN STRUGGLE! acted as if it was the vanguard, some militants supported the need to have a vanguard party in the revolution. Others stressed that a great deal of theoretical work needs to be done, and that we must not give in to anti-intellectualism.
The October 18th conference was a first opportunity for Montreal-area militants to make their positions known.
However, people did not really debate the positions or clarify the major issues at stake.
It was a first step with others to follow. For sure once the postions are better known more answers will be brought forward to clarify differences and the stakes involved.
All these viewpoints have been or soon will be published. Jean-Pierre Gagne’s appeared in issue no. 267 of the newspaper in the article “IN STRUGGLE! must make serious changes”. Jean Charbonneau’s and Josee Lamoureux’s are bing published in a Bulleton “which is intended as a forum for pre-Congress debate. The first issue will be available soon in the Etincelle and Spark bookstores. The position of Guy Simard is summed up in a text called “Le refus du modele” which will appear in an upcoming issue of the paper in the “Food for thought” column.